For my 18th birthday, I received what I thought at the time was the lamest gift ever. Most young adults want a new car, a trip to Europe, or a pre-college shopping spree — what I got was an old binder that had been scrapbooked by my Mom, and that awkward pressure to look very excited while opening it. She labeled the binder “Words of Wisdom”.
Upon receiving it, I flipped through to the first page and found a letter my Mom had written to me when she was in the hospital, just three days after I had been born at 30 weeks with a 50/50 chance to survive. As an expectant mother myself, this letter means so much more to me today than it did at 18.
To my surprise, the binder contained more than just this letter from my Mom. She had secretly spent months reaching out to family and close friends, asking them to write a personal letter containing advice to lead me through adulthood. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — she had captured them all.
Years later, in 2015, my Grandma passed away after battling Alzheimers for several years. When it happened, I immediately remembered this gift and pulled it out of storage.
She wrote her letter to me in 2007 before her illness set in. She writes extensively about the day I was born, and memories of me during my youth. She tells me she is proud of me and how much she loves me. She talks about the things I’ve been passionate about that she has admired. She even ended her note with a life challenge. —“Go out into this world and do everything you can to make it a better place.” As you can imagine, in those moments spent re-reading her letter, I immediately realized the impact of the gift I had received 8 years prior. It now has secured its place as the best gift I’ve ever received.
My Mom is my best friend and has suffered a lot over the years as we’ve lost those close to us. I wanted to do something special for her, so I spent about 6 months tracking people down who are important to her, and asked them to follow in this tradition. It’s never too late for some inspiration, regardless of how long you’ve been an adult. Now, she has a book filled with memories and inspiration to guide her through life from those she loved (and who loved her) dearly. Just like the gift she gave me.
Here are some excerpts from the letter that I included in my Mom’s Words of Wisdom book — most of which are just the life lessons she taught me.
1)People are in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
This first “Mom Quote” is pure gold and I use it all the time. In fact, at certain points of my life, I’ve made lists, categorizing people I’ve met in this way. Not only is this a fun game to play when you are bored, and a really great party trick, it’s a way of evaluating the relationships we choose to invest in, and those we choose to learn from. Invest in the great ones, seek out new ones, and be okay with forgetting those that aren’t worth remembering. Take time to evaluate those who are in your life now, before, and those you will meet in the future.
2) You don’t always have to smile.
I always grew up agitated that my younger brother wouldn’t sit still or smile in family photos. I never understood why my Mom would let it slide, and I simply couldn’t stand it when she said he was ‘just being himself’. It wasn’t until later on in adulthood that I realized, that sometimes you just don’t want to smile on demand. My advice here is don’t fake it until you make it, just be yourself.
3) Always get the queso.
Sure — it’s delicious but that isn’t why this one is here. Food is an activity that for years has sparked countless conversations and memories of great times. Ordering an appetizer not only allows you to take time and linger, but to enjoy the good stuff. Like a hot bowl of cheese or great conversation. Either way — it’s a win win.
4) Love yourself.
This bit of advice we’ve all heard before but unfortunately not often enough. Take time to understand who you are as an individual, a friend, a sibling, a parent, and identify all the things that make you who you are. In this entire world, there is only one single you. Embrace it, revel in the discovery, and raise hell. Splurge on that ice cream cone. Take the long route home just to get a few extra moments of you-time. Discover the power of a good glass of whiskey. Believe in yourself and make all the other past versions of you jealous.
I’ll leave you with some of her best advice — out crazy the crazies. Fight for things you care about. If you say you’ll do something — do it. Take risks. Don’t say it — show it. Always sit at the bar. Write. Create. Vent. Repeat.